bias

Holier and happier than thou?

Are ethical people happier? Many philosophers have claimed this, from Plato and Aristotle onwards. A new study claims it is empirically true, or more exactly that ethical people are more satisfied with life.

The 2009 study looked at cross-country data from the World Values Survey from the US, Canada, Mexico and Brazil. It looked at  people who agreed with the view that it is never justifiable to engage in ethically questionable behaviours like avoiding fares on public transports, cheating on taxes or taking bribes (35%) compared the rest. Controlling for things like gender, income, age, health, being married etc. the study found being ‘ethical’ by this standard increased the likeliehood of being very satisfied with life fairly significantly. The effect size is like a modest increase in income. A good reason to try to become a better person, or (as the paper suggests) for governments that are trying to increase subjective well being to do it by improving moral conduct… or is it?

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Blaming victims, individuals or social structures?

When the Swedish politician Erik Hellsborn of the rather xenophobic Sweden Democrats party blogged that the massacre in Norway was really due to mass immigration and islamization that had driven the killer to extremes (link in Swedish), he of course set himself up for a harsh reprimand from the party chairman Jimmie Åkesson: “I do not share this analysis at all. One cannot blame individual human actions on social structures like this.”

While it is certainly politically rational for the party to try to distance themselves as far as they can from the mass-murderer Breivik (who mentioned them positively by name in his manifesto) this is of course a rather clear deviation from many previous comments from the party that do indeed seem to blame bad actions by people, such as terrorism, as due to Islam or other (foreign) social structures.

It is of course always enjoyable to see political movements you disagree with struggle with their internal contradictions. But this is an area where most of us do have problems: how much of the responsibility of an action do we assign to the individual doing it, and how much do we assign to the group the person belongs to?

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